A Simple Tu B’shvat Haggadah
By Rabbi David Seidenberg
Named for the 15th day of the month of Shevat, this festival is known as the New Year of the Trees or the Trees’ Birthday. Although it’s hard to believe when you live in New England, this time of year is the beginning of spring in the Middle East. The first almond blossoms have opened and the sap in the trees is beginning to rise. Therefore, it’s traditional to eat fruits from Israel on Tu B’Shevat: figs, dates, grapes, olives, pomegranates. It’s also traditional to eat fruits you haven’t tasted in a long time (or ever), and to say the Shehechiyanu (a prayer for experiencing something new). While the holiday has changed over the centuries, today in the U.S., it is seen as a time to celebrate nature and affirm our relationship to the Earth.
Take a walk with friends or family. Plant a tree or some seeds. Make a family donation to your favorite environmental cause. Another beautiful action that is becoming more and more common is to have a Tu B’Shevat seder.
In the 16th century, Kabbalists, the Jewish mystics, created this seder with songs, readings, wine and fruits. Like the Passover seder, this one uses experiential learning, four cups of wine, and special foods. Each cup of wine represents different aspects of the fruit tree and of ourselves. As the seder progresses, we change the color of the wine in the cups (like the changing of the seasons) – from the whiteness of winter to the fullness of spring. The color gets more and more red and we look forward to the fully red wine of the Passover seder.
Of course, there are many interpretations and ways to find meaning in a Tu B’Shvat seder. The cups can represent the tree’s growth from seed to sapling, to continued growth, and to bearing fruit. Or they can symbolize the kinds of relationships we can have with nature and with each other, even with God. There are the four directions, the four seasons, the four elements — all are possible interpretations.
The traditional Tu B’Shvat seder also includes a special order for eating different kinds of fruits, each kind representing a different way that trees give to us, as well as representing our own spiritual growth. Before eating each kind of fruit, one thing some people do is to ask themselves or each other a spiritual question related to that kind of fruit. The seder here follows that model.
However you celebrate Tu B’Shevat, this holiday is an opportunity to savor and appreciate the bounty of this world, and to give thanks for all the ways that trees provide us with food, shelter, beauty, air, and valuable life lessons.
We hope you will use the attached Hagaddah (which explains the order of the steps) for a Tu B’Shevat seder. For kids, it might be best to intersperse the steps of the seder with the meal itself, and to focus on the tastes and the experience rather than on the words.
A TU B’SHEVAT SEDER
The Tu B’Shevat seder is a celebration of our relationship with nature and with fruit trees in particular, and a time for reflection. Today, as we celebrate together, let us envision ourselves as partners in shaping, cultivating, and healing the natural world. The Tu B’Shevat seder is split into four sections, each reflecting the seasons and symbolizing different aspects of the trees and our own lives. Each section is connected to one of the four worlds of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, and represents the transition from the most physical to the most spiritual.
First Cup – The World of Asiyah (Actualization)
Fruits and nuts with a hard outside and an edible inside [Pour a glass of white wine, say the blessing, and drink half or more.]
Although seemingly inedible from the outside, each of the foods eaten at the level of Asiyah, when peeled or shelled, hold gifts that transcend their outward appearance. Like winter, where everything lays dormant and hidden, these fruits and nuts contain inside them the potential to reveal what is hidden within. Because of their hard exterior, these foods can represent the human tendency to judge others by their outer appearance. They can also represent the ways we separate ourselves from other people. Eating these fruits reminds us that whoever we are, we all carry a divine spark within.
Discuss: When have you “judged a book by its cover” only to realize that you were mistaken?
Eat: Walnuts | Almonds | Pomegranates | Coconuts | Pistachios
Second Cup – The World of Yetzirah (Formation)
Fruits with pits at their center
[Add a few drops of red wine and fill the rest with white. Drink half or more.]
We now drink our second cup of wine. Just as each new stream begins with a trickle, each flower with a single bud, just a few drops of color transform the hue of our wine. Although we discard the pits of these fruits, they are the seeds, the means to rebirth. These fruits can remind us that every flowering tree was once bare and that the means to growth can sometimes come from the innermost overlooked places. They can symbolize the potential within us that we have not tapped.
Discuss: What is something you have done or created that started out very small and became bigger or more important over time?
Eat: Cherries | Olives | Plums |
Apricots | Avocado
Third Cup – The World of Beriah (Creation)
Fruits that are entirely edible
[Refill the glass so that there is now half red and half white wine. Drink half or more.]
We drink our third cup of wine. We now have half a cup of red wine and half a cup of white – even though the trees will be full and green and their flowers will blossom, their growth is not complete. So much more will be created; so much more is to come.
These fruits can remind us of the wholeness of the world, where nothing is wasted and everything nourishes everything else. We can take this time to look at the fruit of our own creations and actions and consider how to deepen our relationships in the world and with the earth.
Discuss: When do you feel truly whole and happy?
Eat: Grapes | Raisins | Apples | Pears | Blueberries | Raspberries
Fourth Cup – The World of Atzilut (Presence, Emanation, Birth)
[Pour a nearly full glass of red wine again and add just a few drops of white. Drink all.]
We now come to our final cup; the drops of white in the red remind us of the first cup of this seder and of the cyclical nature of the seasons.
This final section represents what is invisible to the eye. Instead of eating fruit, we may enjoy sweet smells like cinnamon and rosemary. Beyond the cycle of eating is the cycle of breathing, when something lives both within and without us at the same time, when it is so much a part of us that we cannot even see it. At this level all things are already part of each other. We all have this kind of connection with the earth and with God. Like smells, the ways we remember this connection are subtle: the feel of the soil or the smell of dew, the color of the changing leaves, the sounds of birds migrating, or the clasp of a hand.
Discuss: What helps you remember and appreciate what you cannot see?
Smell: Cinnamon | Rosemary | Bay Leaf | Cedar
Adapted from the following resources: Trees, Creation, and Creativity: A Hillel Tu BiSh’vat Seder (Publication by the Hillel Foundation); The Trees Are Davening: A Tu BiSh’vat Haggadah Celebrating Our Kinship with the Trees and the Earth – Dr. Barak Gale and Dr. Ami Goodman (Publication by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life); Seder Tu Bishvat: The Festival of Trees – Adam Fisher (Publication by Central Conference of American Rabbis – 1989); Kesher: Berkely’s Reform Chavurah – Tu B’Shevat Seder.
Basic Blessings To Accompany The Tu B’Shevat Seder
Blessing For The Wine
You can say this before each cup of wine. Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei p’ri ha-gafen. Blessed be You, the One who creates the fruit of the vine.
Blessing For The First Time You Experience Something (Shehechiyanu)
You might want to say this before any fruit you are tasting for the first time this season. Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, she‑hechiyanu v’kiy’manu v’higi’anu la‑z’man ha‑zeh. Blessed be You, the One who has kept us alive and sustained us so that we could reach this moment.
Blessing After Eating Various Fruit
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, borei n’fashot rabot v’chesronan, al kol ma she-barata, l’hachayot bahem nefesh kol chai, barukh chei ha-olamim. Blessed be You, the One who created so many different living things, all needing each other, to make one Life interwoven through them all, as one soul. Blessed be the Life of all worlds.
This handout was adapted from numerous resources. For more information, ideas, and games related to Tu B’Shevat, see www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tu-bishvat/ and www.jewishmuseum.org/kidzone.
For those wishing to dive deeper into the mystical tradition, visit: www.neohasid.org/resources/tu_bishvat/.
Sparkle up your Tu B’Shevat seder
By Mollie Katzen/JNS.org
Winter fruit might seem less spectacular than the much more time-valued offerings of summer, but oranges and pears in particular, while quiet and “common,” can be the unexpected stars of simple savory dishes.
This is perfect for Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for trees, which is a relatively unsung holiday. Sparkle up your Tu B’Shevat seder with an easy but surprising sweet potato-pear soup, which goes perfectly with a winter salad featuring crunchy, colorful leaves refreshingly coated with orange sections and a yogurty-orange vinaigrette, and exuberantly dotted with pistachios (also from trees). Finish the meal with an old-fashioned cake brimming with apples and walnuts, and studded with cranberries.
Cranapple Walnut Cake
Servings: about 8
Back by popular demand from the original Moosewood Cookbook, this recipe now appears, adapted slightly, in The Heart of the Plate. You will likely want to serve this a la mode with some excellent vanilla ice cream. If you anticipate this need, be sure to have the ice cream on hand before you begin.
The cake is quite sweet as is. If you are going to serve it with the ice cream, you might want to reduce the sugar a notch or two—maybe to 1½ cups. If you buy extra-fresh whole cranberries in season and freeze some, you can enjoy them year-round. No defrosting necessary. Use nonstick spray.
1¾ cups (packed) light brown sugar
½ cup grapeseed or canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (also called “white whole wheat”) (could also be unbleached all-purpose)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
2 medium apples (about ½ pound)—peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup chopped walnuts (chopped to the size of peanuts)
½ pound fresh (or frozen) whole cranberries
1) Lightly spray a 9 X 13-inch pan with nonstick spray. Heat the oven to 375°F.
2) In a medium-large bowl, beat together the sugar, oil, and vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
3) In a second bowl, combine the flour with the other dry ingredients until thoroughly blended. Add the dry mixture to the wet, stirring until combined, folding in the fruit and nuts as you go. The batter will be very thick.
4) Patiently spread the batter into the prepared pan (take your time spreading it in place) and bake in the center of the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, and the top surface is springy to the touch.
Winter Salad with Radicchio, Oranges, Pistachios, and Yogurty-Orange Vinaigrette
Romaine and arugula join forces with radicchio and fresh orange sections, and an orange-laced yogurt dressing coats the leaves, allowing a scattering of pistachios to adhere at random. If you choose to form a bed of couscous or extra yogurt underneath each serving, you will be rewarded with an extra layer that both absorbs the delicious trickle-down juices and also boosts the volume of the dish, herding it into light main-dish terrain.
You can wash and spin the salad leaves (keeping them cold and very dry), prepare the vinaigrette, and section the oranges well ahead of time. Dress and finish the salad immediately before serving.
The tangy vinaigrette, free-standing, will keep very well—for weeks—in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. Shake well, or stir from the bottom, before using.
1 heaping tablespoon finely minced shallot
1 teaspoon agave nectar or honey
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt (rounded measure)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup plain yogurt (regular or Greek)
½ pound very fresh radicchio (any type)
A handful of small arugula leaves
About 6 perfect, crisp romaine leaves
2 oranges, sectioned
½ cup lightly toasted pistachios
Optional Enhancement : Spread a bed of yogurt and/or couscous on the plate underneath the salad, as a bed to catch the dressing (and to make this more of a light main course).
1) Combine the shallot, agave or honey, orange juice, vinegar, and salt in a small bowl, and whisk to thoroughly blend.
2) Keep whisking as you drizzle in the olive oil, keeping up the action until it is completely incorporated.
3) Stir/whisk in the yogurt and mix until uniform. Cover and refrigerate until use.
1) Have the cleaned, dried salad leaves in a large-enough bowl. Break them into bite-sized pieces as desired.
2) Add about 6 tablespoons of the vinaigrette, tossing as you go, to thoroughly coat all the leaves. Add the orange sections toward the end, mixing them in gently so they don’t break.
3) Sprinkle in the pistachios with the final toss, and serve pronto.
Sweet Potato-Pear Soup
Fresh pears and sweet potatoes are puréed together and finished off with touches of cinnamon and white wine. This unusual combination is slightly sweet, slightly tart, and deeply soothing. My original version (published in Still Life with Menu) included milk or cream. This version is vegan-friendly, using oil instead of butter.
Use any wine that you enjoy drinking. And perhaps serve the rest of the bottle with the soup. Be sure to use the moist, orange variety of sweet potato (not the drier, starchier white type).
2 medium-sized sweet potatoes (1 pound)
4 cups water
One 3-inch stick cinnamon
1½ teaspoons salt
3 large ripe pears (any kind but Bosc, which are too grainy)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter—or grapeseed or canola oil
¼ cup crisp white wine
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice (to taste)
Cayenne or white pepper (optional)
1) Peel sweet potatoes, and cut into small (about ¾-inch) pieces. Place in a large saucepan with water, cinnamon stick, and salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until tender (about 10 minutes). Remove the cover and let it simmer an additional 5 minutes over medium heat. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick, and let the sweet potatoes rest in their cooking water while you fix the pears.
2) Peel and core the pears, and cut them into thin slices (about ¼-inch).
3) Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a heavy skillet over medium heat, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the pears, and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until quite soft. Add the wine, cover, and simmer about 10 minutes longer over lowest possible heat.
4) Transfer the pear mixture to the sweet potatoes-au-jus, then purée everything together until smooth with an immersion blender. (You can also use a stand blender in batches, and then return it to the pot.)
5) Add lemon or lime juice to taste, plus a touch of cayenne or white pepper, if desired, and serve the soup hot. (It reheats well, if necessary.)
With more than 6 million books in print, Mollie Katzen is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time and has been named by Health Magazine as one of “The Five Women Who Changed the Way We Eat.”